An odd thing happened to me during Gorilla vs Booze. I genuinely couldn’t tell if I was having a great time or if my brain only thought that because I was near death. Gorilla vs Bear packed seven cutting-edge bands and a few hundred dedicated fans into The Peacock, what has to be one of Austin’s smaller venues. In years past, it made for an overly intimate showcase of the best that’s out there… but when you mix in the 80+ degree weather, it made for a sauna that somehow made the harsh Texas sun seem cool and forgiving. Seriously, I got a sunburn while cooling off.
But if the physical conditions were rough and trying, the sonic ones were absolutely a delight. I arrived just a few songs into Here We Go Magic’s set and was sorry to have missed even a second. Positively everyone at SXSW was at least hoping to see HWGM and it’s not without cause — they’re fantastic. I only knew the names of a few of the songs they played, but everything sounded great. It makes me a little bummed that I don’t live anywhere near the upcoming Grizzly Bear/Here We Go Magic tour. That’s lessened a little bit by the fact that I got to see them pull a young girl who wasn’t more than waist-high out of the crowd to play the maracas along with the band. She kept great time and we all had a great time. Funny how that works.
Next up after a quick hiatus outside away from the humidity was Wavves, who was a bit more of a mixed basket. At times I really dug the lo-fi crackle and fuzz, but I didn’t feel like the live show was all there. They often sounded like a band that could have opened for Mudhoney in 1989, but they acted like a band that should open for Mudhoney in 2009 — still rocking, but not as much bite. But even still, I think I was probably in the minority on that one. Everyone was packed in for a chance to see the duo play songs they’d been hearing on Gorilla vs Bear for months. Plus the drummer later came up and threw his arm around me because we were both wearing red sambas. As I told him, I’ll always trust someone wearing red sambas. I feel like that’s probably very often going to be a mistake, but I also feel like those guys are pretty solid people and definitely solid songwriters so I’m willing to take that chance.
If Gorilla vs Bear (and Gorilla vs Booze, by extension) has one goal, it’s likely to push White Denim down the throat of every music lover. And as goals go, you could do a lot worse. White Denim are a three-piece psych-rock group from Austin who get better each time I see them. At GvB III they brought out a handful of songs off their upcoming record and peppered in their classics like “Shake Shake Shake.”
For such a young and relatively unknown band, White Denim has some crazy fans. And now, after years of slow growth in the fan department, I can be counted among them. Some friends and I squeezed into the front row after Wavves ended to be able to get a good view of White Denim’s set. We were not alone in this idea. In fact, it seemed that unlike every other break between bands, very little space cleared up for White Denim. I don’t know if these were all people who’d caught the band at any number of other GvB-sponsored shows or ones who were hoping they could live up to the hype, but they were dedicated either way.
And from what I could tell of the front row’s excitement, they were a well-rewarded group too. Even though no one could have been that familiar with all the new songs, everyone around me was bobbing along and even drumming on whatever was nearest to them. And even though I usually prefer White Denim’s concerts to their recordings (I’m praying for a live album), I’m really, really looking forward to the new record.
The party ended with the Vivian Girls, but to be honest I was outside for most of their set. I’d caught them the day before and was in no state to spend longer in the hot insides of the Peacock than I needed to. I’m told that they covered a Wavves song while Wavves’ lead singer watched from the front row, but I’ll never know. I’ll never no because even when you make a smart move at SXSW like going outside to avoid passing out, you still miss something amazing. It’s the unfortunate downside to being at an event where amazing once-in-a-lifetime events happen a dozen times a day.